‘Significantly better situation’: Germany’s Covid danger level downgraded for first time in six months

About six months after officially designating Germany as a “very high” risk area, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has downgraded the danger level.

'Significantly better situation': Germany's Covid danger level downgraded for first time in six months
Two young people enjoying the sun in Lübeck on Tuesday. The RKI predicts Covid figures will fall further in the summer. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ulrich Perrey

The new level has now fallen from “very high” to “high”, announced Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Tuesday in Berlin. It had been upgraded on December 11th.

Spahn said the downgrade was possible given the falling infection rates and the easing of pressure in intensive care units in Germany. 

“The situation is getting significantly better,” Spahn said, “but we are still in the middle of this pandemic.”

He said the new assessment is “a signal” that the very difficult situation posed by the second and then the third coronavirus wave has broken. But there is still a high risk, he said. 

If people were not careful, the situation could change very quickly and deteriorate yet again, he added.

The current 7-day incidence stands at 35.2, up from 35.1 on Monday. However, the numbers are significantly down from a week ago, when the incidence stood at 58.4. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s emergency brake ‘set to expire’ amid low Covid figures

The downgrade does not have a direct impact on current coronavirus measures. “There is no legal basis for the RKI assessment to have a direct consequence,” Spahn said. 

Still, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said it was “very likely” that the countrywide emergency brake measures would be discontinued at the end of June, as more public life continues to open up.”

RKI head Lothar Wieler explained that the agency coordinates with various countries around the world when it comes to classifications. A lower risk means that other countries could revise their travel warnings for Germany, for example. 

Wieler said the possibility of people in Germany becoming infected has decreased, but it still exists, he said. 

Germany could also be upgraded again in the risk assessment “purely theoretically” if the situation worsens again.

Summer cases to decline

Also on Tuesday, Wieler cautioned that many millions of people in Germany have not yet been vaccinated – about 43 percent have so far gotten a first jab – so only cautious opening steps are possible. 

Based on modelling, he said, the RKI assumes that cases will plateau or drop over the summer, and that the burden in intensive care units will become lower and lower over the next eight weeks.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister predicts 90 percent of people who want vaccine will have one by mid-July

It is a great success that the third wave has been broken, Wieler said. “Now we have to use this success to further reduce the infection numbers. Let’s use the summer to do that.”

In order to do away with the bulk of the measures, “more than 80 percent” of people in the country would need to have immune protection through full vaccination, or recovery from an infection, the RKI president reiterated.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.